The demonization of the Jews has been a persistent, if usually hidden, threat since the emperor Constantine married the Church to the Roman Empire. While the seeds of antisemitism appear in gospel anti-Judaism, and developed over centuries of evolving theology, it was during the Middle Ages, a period marked by extreme social stress and superstition that the Jewish stereotypes present today were fleshed out. This week’s discussion focuses on two of three antisemitic outrages inspired by one or another of those stereotypes.
The best known of the three was the trial and conviction for treason of assimilated French-Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus. The second targeted the Russian-Jew Menahem Mendel Beilis who was charged with ritual murder. Next week the American-Jew Leo Frank was charged and convicted in the rape/murder of a thirteen year old girl.
But I begin with the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, representing a post-emancipation transition from theological anti-Judaism to secular antisemitism.